Q. 482 What happens after videha mukti?

Q: When the jIva removes the ignorance of his real nature, and realizes Atman is his Real unchanging Self, if the body dissolves, what happens afterwards?

If there is no further birth, do we then remain as Absolute, without name and form, without knowing anything other than pure Self? Is it like space all being uniform without any form? Is there nothing that is known? Surely it doesn’t remain In an absolute ‘stateless state’ of no Knowing?

A: There have been a couple of questions around this before – see http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/q_and_a/q_and_a44.htm#q263 for example.

Your question is based on a misunderstanding. At the empirical level, there is indeed a ‘person’ who may or may not become enlightened. If he/she does gain Self-knowledge, then clearly the outlook of the person for the remainder of his/her ‘life’ is going to be different.

‘Dying’ is the process by which the gross matter of the body (and subtle matter of the mind) cease to be animated by Consciousness. Consciousness itself is totally unaffected by this process. It already exists everywhere; is the only ‘substance’ that there is; is perfect and complete.

So, supposing person X gains enlightenment, X now knows that in reality there never was a separate X; there is only ever Consciousness. So X knows that he/she does not exist as X even before death of the body-mind. X knows that he/she IS that Consciousness in reality. When the death does occur, what happens is that Consciousness is no longer reflected in the mind of X. So X ceases to exist because X only ever existed as a separate entity from the perspective of ignorance (identifying with the inert body-mind).

Consciousness remains as unlimited-existence-consciousness. The word ‘knowledge’ is only really meaningful at the empirical level. There cannot be any objective knowledge when there is only Consciousness. When Advaita looks to ‘explain’ the world appearance for seekers, it refers to an ’empirical Brahman’, which it calls ‘Ishvara’; and Ishvara is said to be ‘all-knowing’, creator of the world and so on.

This is a subtle question and you require a significant background of Advaita fully to appreciate the answer. If you are still unhappy and can formulate a specific question then do come back. There has recently been a long discussion at the site about related topics – j~nAna and jIvanmukti and the question of ‘Who am ?’ https://www.advaita-vision.org/q-479-what-should-i-read/ and https://www.advaita-vision.org/who-am-i/ .

There is also now a series of posts on the subject of pratibandha-s and this touches on aspects relating to ‘person vs Consciousness’ so reading these might help. They begin at https://www.advaita-vision.org/pratibandha-s-part-1-of-6/. (Note that there are actually 10 parts!)

Q: Thank you for your quick reply. The way I expressed the question was a bit jumbled. Let me try again.

At this instant there is a name and form called X, and the form is definitely a flux of changing composition of both gross and subtle aspects. These represent waking state and dreaming state.

There is also the casual state experienced as deep sleep, in which I do not know any object or subject. These 3 states rotate in human experience; when one is active the others are dormant. But all three are always there to be known in the waking state. Our gross body and external objects, thoughts, feelings and so on. Even samAdhi and the deep sleep casual body can all be known in the waking state. Then there is the fourth and real factor referred to with the name turIya. This is the unchanging background with reference to the previous mentioned three states.

The first stage of Vedanta is to remove the ignorance that prevents the understanding/recognition of the fact that turIya Atman is the Real I and not the I-ideas produced in the subtle body with the various identifications and conditionings caused by ignorance.

The next stage is to understand the ‘one without a second’. There is only Brahman. All appearances are only Brahman with names and forms. So, while I appear in the form X, I am really only Brahman; the essence of X is Brahman.

Atman/Brahman clearly was never born as X nor will Atman ever die when the body called X disappears and returns to the elements that formed it. Brahman was never born and never dies; It is always prior to space, time and casualty.

My mind’s understanding or misunderstanding is as follows:

Atman with a subtle body can seem to be a knower with the instrument called mind/intellect. The cycle of karma continues because of the ignorance of taking the subtle body as self and not knowing turIya as Eternal Self. So if, at the end of the body’s life, this ignorance has been dissolved and Self-Knowledge has fully matured, I will then know that Atman/Brahman is Absolute Reality and was never subject to the birth-death cycle. After the death of the body for a jIvanmukta, there will be no further incarnation because past and future karmas were burnt up. So the jIva ‘dissolves in the Ocean of Brahman’.

This is where the heart of my question is: if Atman knows Itself ‘as gold appearing like bangle’; if Atman doesn’t appear again, does it remain like in deep sleep in a no-knowing, stateless state? Or does it appear in a more subtle form, outside the scope of the human intellect to directly understand? Or does it know through all forms simultaneously, without appearing with an individual form? Or does it remain in what is called Brahmaloka?

This of course is mind-boggling for a human mind to understand through direct experience!

A: There is no simple answer to your question. A fundamental aspect of the teaching is that Brahman cannot be ‘known’. It has no attributes. Since you are referencing the teaching of Mandukya, the 7th mantra says that Brahman is:

  • adRRiShTam – imperceptible; (It is) unseen (by any of the senses) [dRRiShTa means, seen, perceived, visible, apparent – but the word stands for all the senses]. This negates the pramANa of pratyakSha, direct perception.
  • avyavahAryam – unavailable for transactions; It has nothing to do with ‘worldly’ things [vyavahAra is to do with common practice, ordinary life, conduct, behavior etc. i.e. transactions within vyavahAra]. This follows, since it is not accessible to senses, mind, organs of action etc. as described by the other words in this section of the mantra.
  • agrAhyam – not ‘graspable’ [grAhya often means to be perceived, recognized or understood but here it is used in its literal sense and stands for all the five karmendriya-s (organs of action) – grahaNa literally means to catch, where the organs of action are involved in catching.]
  • alakShaNam – without any characteristics [lakShaNa is an indicatory mark or sign or, more commonly in Advaita, a pointer] also translated as ‘un-inferable’. This negates the pramANa of inference.
  • achintyam – unthinkable. Since turIya is unavailable for the pramANa-s of perception or inference, it is incomprehensible, beyond thought. It follows that whatever you can conceive is not turIya!
  • avyapadeshyam – unspeakable. Since it is not an object of experience, it cannot be described or defined. I.e. it is not available to shabda pramANa either.
  • ekAtmapratyayasAraM – it has to be recognized (sAra) to be the one unique (eka) ‘I’-experience (Atma-pratyaya). It is the same Self that is experienced in all three states. We know that the ‘feeling of I’ that I have remains the same throughout my life. Although the body changes, the mind changes and my personal circumstances continually change, the ‘essential I’ that I feel myself to be now is the same as that which existed when I was a child and first appreciated myself as an existent entity. The attributes – size, age, health, relations, job, possessions, emotions, beliefs etc. are all transitory attributes but ‘I am’ – Consciousness – continues unchanged. When all of those attributes are dropped, what remains is my true Self – Atman. That is turIya. (The ‘dropping’ is, of course, an intellectual exercise, which has to be done in the waking state.)
  • prapa~nchopashamaM – that in which all phenomena cease; negation (ama) of the experience (pash) of all plurality of the universe (prapa~ncha). The waking state is that in which we are conscious of the gross universe – sthUla prapa~ncha. The dream state is that in which we are conscious of the subtle world projected by the mind – sUkShma prapa~ncha. The deep-sleep state is that in which we experience peace and bliss, though the causal world (svapna prapa~ncha) is unmanifest. But turIya is neither knower nor known. All of those attributes which characterize the three states are negated. There is no plurality; no universe; consciousness alone exists without a second – this word is effectively negating the existence of the world; turIya is that which is free from the ‘universes’ in the three states of consciousness.

(The above is from my book ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality’.)

The bracelet is gold but gold is not the bracelet. You, X, are that same Consciousness reflected in a subtle but inert mind. But the mind is never going to be able to appreciate the nature of that reality. It is not just mind-boggling; it is mind-impossible!